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South First Street project in initial design phase

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The city is ready to begin the initial design phase for improvements to South First Street. The South First Street project is set to begin construction in the winter of 2004.

Sunnyside City Manager Dave Fonfara has always been a go-getter. Perhaps, the soon to be completed improvements to South First Street will be a testament to his legacy in the community, after he leaves for Chelan shortly after the beginning of the year.

The initiative shown by Fonfara was instrumental in securing $1.5 million in federal funding for a road improvement project to South First Street. The project is in the initial phases and is set to begin construction in the winter of 2004, according to City Engineer Jim Bridges.

What makes the funding for the South First Street project so unique is the way it was obtained. Basically, said Bridges, Fonfara went to the doorstep of Sen. Patty Murray in Washington D.C. and lobbied for the federal appropriation. Bridges said most projects such as the South First Street upgrade are paid for through grants and other funding sources. Bridges said Fonfara basically cut out the middle man to obtain funding for the improvement project.

"It is going to be a major benefit to the city," said Fonfara.

Fonfara said the project is being done for a number of reasons, foremost safety. In the past three years, there have been 33 different accidents along South First Street. Fonfara said the project is going to dramatically improve the area, making it visible and attractive to people coming off Interstate 82. Fonfara said the improvements are also needed to South First Street because it is a heavily used route. Semi-trucks often use the South First Street route to get to the Interstate.

Bridges lauded the efforts of Fonfara in securing funding for the project.

"The direct approach is sometimes the best," said Bridges.

Bridges said the project will involved making improvements to 3,500 square feet along South First Street. The road improvements will begin around the west-bound entrance to Interstate 82. Improvements will be made up until the traffic light, going towards Harrison Hill. Bridges is estimating the project will cost between $800,000 and $1.2 million. Bridges added that the cost of the project could expand after the city incurs right-of-way acquisitions along South First Street.

"The city can't proceed with construction until all right-of-ways are acquired," said Bridges. "Which takes time."

The final cost of the agreement for engineering consulting services with Gray & Osborne of Yakima still has to be approved, which could lead to additional costs. The engineering contract is scheduled to be approved at the Jan. 12 Sunnyside City Council meeting. Other costs and time considerations could involve the franchise agreements concerning the relocation of a Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District canal along the east side of South First Street, relocation of overhead power utilities, as well as gas line relocations.

Following the approval of the contract with Gray & Osborne, the city will begin the design phase of the South First Street reconstruction project. Bridges said the design phase of the project will begin almost immediately after Council approves a contract with the Yakima engineering firm. Part of the design phase will include the completion of a traffic survey and environmental impact. A biological assessment will also have to be done on the effects the project will have on the SVID irrigation ditch.

Bridges said the city selected Gray & Osborne for the project because the firm was very excited about being involved. During the interview, the Yakima firm had an elaborate presentation about the project, which Bridges said was difficult for the other bidding firms to top.

The start of the construction project will be delayed until the winter of 2004, said Bridges. The delay is due to the irrigation season. Bridges said the project will be easier to complete once irrigation season is over and the contractor doesn't have to worry about changing water levels.

Besides basic improvements to the South First Street roadway, the project will include improvements at the South First Street intersection near Lincoln Avenue. On the other end of South First Street near the Interstate 82 entrance, the city will be considering whether or not to put in new traffic signals or a round-about to control traffic.

Like Fonfara said, Bridges said the project is mainly being done to address safety concerns. The number of accidents in the past three years is way too many for one area, said Bridges. But, the city is also wanting to use the project to enhance Sunnyside.

"What the city would like to do is use it as an entrance, a gateway, into the City of Sunnyside," said Bridges.

As the city gets more into the project, it will be looking for increased citizen involvement, said Bridges. Residents and businesses in the area will be involved with the project

"They will have direct involvement," said Bridges of the people in the area.

Bridges said the project will be completed in such a way where the impacts will be minimal to residents and businesses. He said, though, there will be times when South First Street will be closed entirely to traffic.

. Mike Kantman can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or email him at mkantman@eaglenewspapers.com

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